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Posted Thu 17 Jun 2021

Arria-formula Meeting: Addressing the Impact on the Sahel Region of the Departure of Foreign Fighters and Mercenaries from Libya

Tomorrow afternoon (18 June), Security Council members will hold an Arria-formula meeting via videoconference (VTC) on the impact on the Sahel region of the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya. The meeting will be co-hosted by the “A3 plus one” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) and co-sponsored by Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad (the Chair of the G5 Sahel), Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Libya, Norway, Sudan, and the AU. AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Bankole Adeoye, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions Alexandre Zouev, and Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in Libya Georgette Gagnon are expected to brief. The meeting will be chaired by Kenya, as the coordinator of the A3 plus one for June.

The concept note for the meeting places the event in the broader context of the ongoing peace process in Libya and recent developments in Chad, where on 19 April Chadian President Idriss Déby died in clashes with rebels invading from Libya. The ceasefire agreement reached in October 2020 by Libya’s 5+5 Joint Military Commission had required the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the country within three months, a call echoed by the Security Council in resolutions 2570 and 2571 of 2021. But a UN estimate released in December 2020 noted that some 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries remained active in the country. The note characterises their presence as a threat to the ongoing peace process and the holding of elections scheduled for 24 December. It also cautions that the departure of these foreign elements requires careful management to avoid the spread of conflict, with terrorist fighters and arms crossing “the porous borders of Sahelian countries”.

According to the concept note, the objective of tomorrow’s meeting is to assess the danger posed to the stability of the Sahel region by the unsupervised departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya; to discuss UN support to their withdrawal; and to consider how the international community, including international and regional organisations, can assist in disarming, demobilising and reintegrating returning fighters and mercenaries. Several questions are posed in the note to help guide the discussion, including:

  • How can the Council best respond to the threat posed by the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya to the Sahel region?
  • What tools are at the UN’s disposal to respond to the threat posed by their withdrawal?
  • How can the UN and the regional and sub-regional organisations best collaborate for effective disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes for the foreign armed groups?
  • What challenges hamper the envisaged DDR programmes, and how can they be addressed?

This Arria-format discussion follows an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya held on 29 April. The IID was also initiated by the A3 plus one; it focused on necessary steps towards the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement, including DDR measures. It appears that in the aftermath of this meeting, the A3 plus one felt the need continue the discussion on a broader regional level (including with the countries of the Sahel region), to exchange regional perspectives and to gather ideas for tailoring DDR approaches to specific national contexts. Interventions from countries in the region may call for greater international and regional cooperation, with the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries and with the design of suitable national DDR programmes.

Council members have recently restarted discussions on authorising a dedicated UN office to support the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S). Some members may use their interventions to stress the need to strengthen the joint force and reiterate their views that a UN support office is the best way to do this.

Participants are also likely to emphasise the importance of full implementation of the arms embargo on Libya to stop the flow of arms to the country and their proliferation across the region. EU member states in particular are likely to highlight efforts to support the arms embargo, including though the naval operation EUNAVFOR Med IRINI, which operates in the Mediterranean Sea with a mandate to inspect vessels bound to and from Libya suspected to carry arms and military material.

Some interventions may refer to the most recent report of the Panel of Experts on Libya from 8 March, which attests to the presence of mercenaries in the country, including private entities based in the United Arab Emirates, as well as the Russian-based Wagner Group and the Turkey-based SADAT International Defense Consultancy.